For more than twenty years, bus adventures took my husband Bill and me all over Mexico. The day after our flight arrived, we’d go to the bus station to decide where to go next. Joining throngs of travelers' eyes riveted overhead to the bus company logos blazing across the terminal, ETN, Estrella Blanca, Primera Plus, Futura, Maya de Oro, Turista, we stumbled over each other reading the signs. So many buses, so many places to go, we could easily spend hours choosing our destination, checking the schedules, discussing the merits of spending a few more pesos on “primera clase,” first class service.
We traveled, at first, for the sheer joy of exploring Mexico. We never tired of bustling cities with their vast markets and towering cathedrals or of quiet small towns with plazas in the center, and a graceful church nearby, its doors open to the cool inside. In each city and on each stretch of beach we began to ask ourselves, “Is this a place we could live someday, would we retire here, could this be our home?” And the search began.
Disappointments were few. We found Pie de la Cuesta, near busy Acapulco, Isla Mujeres and Playa del Carmen, Cozumel, gems then undiscovered; sleepy Progresso and Puerto Escondido. For several years we flew into Puerto Vallarta and headed south to Melaque and Barra de Navidad finding beachside bungalows where we could afford to stay and take short road trips when we got restless. Plus, we liked Vallarta, especially the old section, where fish tacos were plentiful, hotel rooms were still under $20 a night and there was a brand new bus station just minutes from the airport.
In 1999, we consulted our newest guide book and decided to explore the small beach towns north of Puerto Vallarta. The description of Sayulita was encouraging. Once settled into a small hotel in Puerto Vallarta, we caught the first bus heading north and sat watching the lush foliage along the highway, and glimpses of ocean, its wild waves reflecting the sun.
It seemed, as we checked our watches and the guide book once again, that the trip was already taking far too long. Making my way to the front of the bus, I consulted with the driver.
“Sayulita?” I asked.
“Ya, se lo ha pasado, “he answered. We had missed it.
“No problem”, Bill said as the bus pulled to the side of the road. Lifting our back packs from the overhead rack, he said “we’ll just get off here.”
There was no sign at the highway crossing but the narrow bridge near the entrance to town and long cobblestone street with small houses and shops gathered closely together was a familiar scene. Women swept and watered the dust in front of their houses, street dogs stretched in the morning sun, an occasional car or truck rattled down the street. There are men on horseback. Walking onto the beach, we were amazed to find it nearly deserted, where was everyone? Where were we?
“Breakfast,” Bill announced pointing to the restaurant we’d noted earlier. “Let’s eat and find out where we are.”
Only a handful of tables were occupied. When we placed our order, I asked the name of the town.
“San Francisco,” the waitress replied adding in Spanish, “Everyone here calls it San Pancho.”
We pulled out our trusty guidebooks but were quickly told by a voice from a table in the corner, “You aren’t going to find this place in that book.” We looked over.
“You just found the most beautiful town in Mexico,” he continued coming over to our table. Towering over us, he grinned and extended his hand, “Dar Peters,” he said, “Welcome to San Pancho.”
It’s been nearly ten years since we first wandered down the streets of San Pancho. Through the long friendship with Dar, we found and bought land and, with him built the house in which we now spend our winters. Dar died two years ago but he is still a legend in San Pancho. The houses he built are distinctive and unique. We’re proud to own one.